"We were overburdened with projects," Freeman said. "If we had on another major project, a PPM tool implemented in-house -- that would have taken even more resources and we would have been burdened with software licensing and additional equipment."
The key for Freeman, who uses on-demand PPM vendor Innotas, was getting visibility into the 180 projects his 40-person IT organisation was working on for a city of 110,000 people. This included both new projects and ongoing maintenance projects. He extracted information on those projects from spreadsheets and mapped them to his city council's goals on a dashboard within his PPM application.
"We had to go through each of those [projects] and set them up in the project portfolio scenario," Freeman said. "With that process, we also indicated their alignment with city council's goals. We reprioritised things. We saw some projects that were unnecessary and some had a higher priority than they should have and some needed more priority."
For instance, Freeman's organisation gave a higher priority to public safety projects, such as mobile data enhancements for police patrol cars and crime analysis applications that allowed the police department to better understand patterns of crime and other incidents in different geographic areas.
No projects were canceled, Freeman said. But those that had less impact on the city council's goals were pushed down. Projects to enhance existing core systems, for the parks and recreation department for instance, were curtailed. Replacing the city's financial management system was also delayed when the PPM technology showed that enhancements to the system in some key areas, particularly in how the city provided information to residents, eased pressure for a major upgrade.
A wide-angle business lens
Ian Finley, research director at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., said PPM has the power to give organisations a combined view of both new projects and maintenance work.
"It allows you to look at it and sort it based on priorities, risks and opportunity," Finley said. "It's one of the few tools IT has had to pull everything that is going on in IT in one place and apply a business lens to that to try to come up with an answer to the question, 'Is this project or particular fix more important than that one?'"
Freeman said the budget savings he realised from using a PPM tool came directly from the visibility he gained into new projects and operations. That visibility allowed him to prioritise "projects and have a better look at what we should and could do, rather than having too big of an appetite for new projects. That's where the portfolio came in."
PPM also helped Freeman better manage his staff resources. By knowing exactly how much capacity his staff had, he didn't allow his organisation to take on more than it could handle. This helped avoid adding staff.
Finley said many companies use only project management applications instead of PPM applications. This deprives them of that big-picture view that Freeman discovered.
"They're probably using a project management tool that allows them to look at individual projects but does not allow them to view all projects from a systematic view," Finley said. "To get a bigger view, they use Excel. They put it all in one big spreadsheet to compare and see which ones are in trouble and which ones are going well. On the operations side they're probably managing [maintenance] on a help desk type application that allows them to see all the incidents that are coming up and the scheduled, planned work, but they won't be able to apply a business lens to it."
PPM allows CIOs to integrate new projects with maintenance, Finley said.
"It allows you to see, if you take Joe and put him on fixing a problem here, what impact that will have on new projects," Finley said.
Freeman said PPM also allowed business units within city government to break out of their individual silos and understand how the projects they request affect the IT organisation's overall ability to serve the city. In addition, he set up a technology governance committee with representatives from each city department. The committee uses the PPM technology to set priorities.
Finley said PPM is a big part of IT governance. It allows business unit executives to better understand how their demands affect the IT organisation and its capacity.
"If you've got 14 different departments who all think they're the most important department in the world, how do you make decisions about who goes first and who goes second and who gets more resources," Finley said. "IT can't make that up. IT isn't really the group who sets policy. It's a support function. You need to be able to give tools to whoever runs the organisation to give them visibility so they can see here are all the competing priorities, and here are all the resources that we have."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer
This was first published in July 2007